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The X-Files is an American science fiction drama television series created by Chris Carter. The series revolves around the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigate X-Files: marginalized, unsolved cases involving paranormal phenomena. The original television series aired from September 1993 to May 2002 on Fox. The program spanned nine seasons, with 202 episodes. A short tenth season of six episodes ran from January to February 2016. Following the rating success of this revival, The X-Files returned for an eleventh season of ten episodes, which ran from January to March 2018. In addition to the television series, two feature films have been released: The 1998 film The X-Files, which took place as part of the T.V. series continuity, and the standalone film The X-Files: I Want to Believe, released in 2008, six years after the original television run had ended.
At the start of their investigations, Mulder, a conspiracy theorist, believes in the existence of aliens and the paranormal. At the same time, Scully, a medical doctor and a skeptic is assigned to scientifically analyze Mulder’s discoveries, offer alternate rational theories to his work, and thus return him to mainstream cases. Early in the series, both agents become pawns in a more significant conflict and trust only each other and a few select people. They develop a close relationship that begins as a platonic friendship but becomes a romance by the end of the series. The agents also discover the government’s agenda to keep the existence of extraterrestrial life secret. In addition to the series-spanning story arc, “monster of the week” episodes form roughly two-thirds of all attacks.
The X-Files was inspired by earlier television series which featured suspense and speculative fiction elements, including The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, Tales from the Darkside, Twin Peaks, and especially Kolchak: The Night Stalker. When creating the main characters, Carter sought to reverse gender stereotypes by making Mulder a believer and Scully a skeptic. In the first seven seasons, they featured Duchovny and Anderson equally. In the eighth and ninth seasons, Anderson took precedence while Duchovny appeared intermittently. New main characters were introduced: F.B.I. agents John Doggett (Robert Patrick) and Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish). Mulder and Scully’s boss, Assistant Director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), also became the main character. The first five seasons of The X-Files were filmed and produced in Vancouver, British Columbia before production eventually moved to Los Angeles to accommodate Duchovny. The series later returned to Vancouver to film The X-Files: I Want to Believe, as well as the tenth and eleventh seasons of the series.
The X-Files was a hit for the Fox network and received largely positive reviews, although its long-term story arc was criticized near the conclusion. Initially considered a cult series, it became a pop culture touchstone that tapped into public mistrust of governments and large institutions and embraced conspiracy theories and spirituality. The series and lead actors, Duchovny and Anderson, received multiple awards and nominations. By its conclusion, the show was the longest-running science fiction series in U.S. television history. The series also spawned a franchise with Millennium and The Lone Gunmen spinoffs, two theatrical films, and accompanying merchandise.
The X-Files follows the careers and personal lives of F.B.I. Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). Mulder is a talented profiler, conspiracy theorist, and firm believer in the supernatural. He is also adamant about the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life and its presence on Earth. This set of beliefs earns him the nickname “Spooky Mulder” and an assignment to a little-known department that deals with unsolved cases, the X-Files. His view of the paranormal springs from the claimed abduction of his sister Samantha Mulder by extraterrestrials when Mulder was 12. Her abduction drives Mulder throughout most of the series. Because of this, as well as more nebulous desires for retribution and the revelation of truths kept hidden by human authorities, Mulder struggles to maintain objectivity in his investigations.
Special Agent Scully is a foil for Mulder in this regard. As a medical doctor and natural skeptic, Scully approaches cases with complete detachment, even when Mulder, despite his considerable training, loses his objectivity. She is partnered with Mulder initially to debunk Mulder’s nonconforming theories, often supplying logical, scientific explanations for the cases’ unexplainable phenomena. Although she frequently offers scientific alternatives to Mulder’s deductions, she can rarely refute them completely. Throughout the series, she becomes increasingly dissatisfied with her ability to approach the cases scientifically. After Mulder’s abduction at the hands of aliens in the seventh season finale “Requiem,” Scully becomes a “reluctant believer” who manages to explain the paranormal with science.
Various episodes also deal with the relationship between Mulder and Scully, initially platonic but later develops romantically. Mulder and Scully are joined by John Doggett (Robert Patrick) and Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) late in the series after Mulder is abducted. Doggett replaces him as Scully’s partner and helps her search for him, later involving Reyes, of whom Doggett had professional knowledge. The initial run of The X-Files ends when Mulder is secretly subjected to a military tribunal for breaking into a top-secret military facility and viewing plans for alien invasion and colonization of Earth. He is found guilty and sentenced to death but escapes punishment with the help of the other agents, and he and Scully become fugitives.
As the show progressed, key episodes, called parts of the “Mytharc,” were recognized as the “mythology” of the series canon; these episodes carried the extraterrestrial/conspiracy storyline that evolved throughout the series. “Monster of the week”—often abbreviated as “MOTW” or “MoW”—came to denote the remainder of The X-Files episodes. These episodes, forming the majority of the series, dealt with paranormal phenomena, including cryptids, mutants, science fiction technology, horror monsters, and religious phenomena. Some of the Monster-of-the-Week episodes even featured satiric elements and comedic storylines. The main story arc involves the agents’ efforts to uncover a government conspiracy that covers up the existence of extraterrestrials and their sinister collaboration with said government. Mysterious men constituting a shadow element within the U.S. government, known as “The Syndicate,” are the major villains in the series; late in the series, it is revealed that The Syndicate acts as the only liaison between humanity and a group of extraterrestrials that intends to destroy the human species. Cigarette Smoking Man usually represents them (William B. Davis), a ruthless killer, masterful politician, negotiator, failed novelist, and the principal antagonist.
As the series goes along, Mulder and Scully learn about the evidence of the alien invasion piece by piece. It is revealed that the extraterrestrials plan on using a sentient virus, known as the black oil (also known as “Purity”), to infect humanity and turn the World’s population into a slave race. The Syndicate—having made a deal to be spared by the aliens—has been working to develop an alien-human hybrid that can withstand the effects of the black oil. The group has also been secretly working on a vaccine to overcome the black oil; this vaccine is revealed in the latter parts of season five and the 1998 film. Counter to the alien colonization effort, another faction of aliens, the faceless rebels, are working to stop alien colonization. Eventually, in the season six episodes “Two Fathers”/”One Son,” the rebels manage to destroy the Syndicate. Without human liaisons, the colonists dispatch the “Super Soldiers”: beings that resemble humans but are biologically alien. In the latter parts of season eight and the whole of season nine, the Super Soldiers manage to replace critical individuals in the government, forcing Mulder and Scully to go into hiding.
Cast and characters
David Duchovny portrays Fox Mulder
Mulder is an Oxford-educated F.B.I. special agent who believes in the existence of extraterrestrials and a government conspiracy to hide the truth. He works in the X-Files office, which is concerned with cases marked as unsolvable; most involve supernatural/mysterious circumstances. Mulder considers the X-Files so vital that he has made their study his life’s primary purpose. After his abduction by aliens at the end of season seven, his role in the show diminishes, and much of his work is taken on by Agent John Doggett. He appears in an episode of The Lone Gunmen, the 1998 film The X-Files, and the 2008 film The X-Files: I Want to Believe.
Gillian Anderson portrays Dana Scully
Scully is an F.B.I. special agent, medical doctor, and scientist who is Mulder’s partner. In contrast to his credulity, Scully is a skeptic, basing her beliefs on scientific explanations. However, despite her otherwise rigid skepticism, she is a Catholic, and her faith plays an essential role in several episodes. As the series progresses, she becomes more open to the possibility of paranormal happenings. In the latter part of the eighth season, her position in the X-Files office is taken by Agent Monica Reyes, and Scully moves to Quantico to teach new F.B.I. agents. She appears in both The X-Files feature films.
John Doggett is portrayed by Robert Patrick (seasons 8–9)
Doggett is an F.B.I. special agent who makes his first appearance in the season eight episode “Within.” Doggett served in the United States Marine Corps from the 1970s to the 1980s. Later, he started to work with the New York City Police Department, reaching the rank of detective. After his son’s death, he joined the F.B.I.’s Criminal Investigations Division. In 2000, Alvin Kersh assigned him to the X-files unit as Scully’s partner after an unsuccessful task force attempt to find Mulder. He does not appear in The X-Files feature films.
Monica Reyes is portrayed by Annabeth Gish (season 9; also starring in season 8; guest seasons 10–11)
Reyes is an F.B.I. special agent who was born and raised in Mexico City. She majored in folklore and mythology at Brown University and earned a master’s degree in religious studies. Her first F.B.I. assignment was serving on a special task force investigating satanic rituals. She is a longtime friend of Doggett’s and becomes his partner after Scully’s departure. She did not appear in The X-Files feature films.
Mitch Pileggi portrays Walter Skinner (seasons 9–11; also starring in seasons 3–8; recurring season 2; guest season 1)
Skinner is an F.B.I. assistant director who served in the United States Marine Corps in the Vietnam War. During this time, he shot and killed a young boy carrying explosives, an incident that scarred him for life. Skinner is originally Mulder and Scully’s direct supervisor. He later serves in the same position for Doggett and Reyes. Although he is portrayed initially as somewhat antagonistic, he eventually becomes a close friend of Mulder and Scully. He appeared in an episode of The Lone Gunmen and in both The X-Files feature films.
Cigarette Smoking Man is portrayed by William B. Davis (seasons 4–7, 9; recurring seasons 1–3, 10–11)
The Cigarette Smoking Man is the series’ primary villain. In the seventh-season episode “Requiem,” he is believed to have been killed after being pushed down a flight of stairs by Alex Krycek until the ninth-season finale “The Truth,” in which Mulder and Scully travel through remote New Mexico and reach a pueblo where a “wise man” reputedly lives, who is revealed to be Cigarette Smoking Man. In the ninth-season episodes “William” and “The Truth,” it is suggested that he is Mulder’s biological father. He also appears in the 1998 feature film.
Alex Krycek is portrayed by Nicholas Lea (seasons 5–9; recurring seasons 2–3; guest season 4)
Krycek plays an integral part in several events harmful to Mulder and Scully. Krycek is a Russian-American, the son of Cold War immigrants, and first introduced as an F.B.I. Special Agent assigned as a temporary investigation partner to Fox Mulder. Krycek proceeds to work with Mulder and attempts to gain his trust. However, it later becomes evident that Krycek is an undercover agent working for Cigarette Smoking Man.
Jeffrey Spender is portrayed by Chris Owens (season 6; recurring season 5; guest seasons 9, 11)
Spender is a skeptic assigned to The X-Files after Fox Mulder’s forced to leave. He is the son of Cigarette Smoking Man, his ex-wife, multiple abductee Cassandra Spender, and possibly Mulder’s half-brother. Initially thought to have been murdered by Cigarette Smoking Man, Spender returns, horribly disfigured, in the ninth season and helps Scully’s son William.
Alvin Kersh is portrayed by James Pickens Jr. (season 9; recurring seasons 6, 8; guest season 11)
As an assistant director (and later deputy director), he temporarily becomes supervisor to Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully when they are assigned away from the X-Files division. During this time, Cigarette Smoking Man often visits him in his office. Kersh assigns Mulder and Scully primarily to menial tasks, such as terrorist details and Federal background checks. Kersh is largely antagonistic to Mulder and Scully, but in “The Truth,” he somewhat redeems himself by helping Mulder escape capital punishment.
Mulder and Scully came right out of my head. A dichotomy. They are equal parts of my desire to believe in something and my inability to believe in something. My skepticism and my faith. And the writing of the characters came very quickly to me. I want, as many people do, to have the experience of witnessing a paranormal phenomenon. At the same time, I wish not to accept it but question it. I think those characters and those voices came out of that duality.—Chris Carter on creating the characters of Mulder and Scully.
California native Chris Carter was allowed to produce new shows for the Fox network in the early 1990s. As Carter was tired of the comedies he had been working on for Walt Disney Pictures, a report that aliens may have abducted 3.7 million Americans, the Watergate scandal, and the 1970s horror series Kolchak: The Night Stalker all contributed to triggering the idea for The X-Files. He wrote the pilot episode in 1992.
Fox executives rejected Carter’s initial pitch for The X-Files. He fleshed out the concept and returned a few weeks later, after which they commissioned the pilot. Carter worked with NYPD Blue producer Daniel Sackheim to further develop the pilot, drawing stylistic inspiration from the 1988 documentary The Thin Blue Line and the British television series Prime Suspect. Inspiration also came from Carter’s memories of The Twilight Zone as well as from The Silence of the Lambs, which provided the impetus for framing the series around agents from the F.B.I., to give the characters a more plausible reason for being involved in each case than Carter believed was present in Kolchak. Carter was determined to keep the relationship between the two leads strictly platonic, basing their interactions on the characters of Emma Peel and John Steed in The Avengers series.
The early 1990s series Twin Peaks was a significant influence on the show’s dark atmosphere and its often surreal blend of drama and irony. Duchovny had appeared as a transgender D.E.A. agent in Twin Peaks, and the Mulder character was seen as a parallel to that show’s F.B.I. Agent Dale Cooper. The producers and writers cited All the President’s Men, Three Days of the Condor, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Rashomon, The Thing, The Boys from Brazil, The Silence of the Lambs and J.F.K. as other influences. In addition, episodes written by Darin Morgan often referred to or referenced other films.
Duchovny had worked in Los Angeles for three years before The X-Files; he first wanted to focus on feature films. In 1993, his manager, Melanie Green, gave him the script for the pilot episode of The X-Files. Green and Duchovny were convinced it was a good script, so he auditioned for the lead. Duchovny’s audition was “terrific,” though he talked rather slowly. While the show’s casting director favored him, Carter thought he was not particularly intelligent. He asked Duchovny if he could “please” imagine himself as an F.B.I. agent in “future” episodes. Duchovny, however, turned out to be one of the best-read people that Carter knew.
Anderson auditioned for the role of Scully in 1993. “I couldn’t put the script down,” she recalled. The network wanted a more established or a “taller, leggier, blonder and breastier” actress for Scully than the 24-year-old Anderson, a theater veteran with minor film experience. After auditions, Carter felt she was the only choice. Carter insisted that Anderson had the kind of “no-nonsense integrity that the role required.” For portraying Scully, Anderson won numerous major awards: the Screen Actors Guild Award in 1996 and 1997, an Emmy Award in 1997, and a Golden Globe Award in 1997.
The character Walter Skinner was played by actor Mitch Pileggi, who had unsuccessfully auditioned for the roles of two or three other characters on The X-Files before getting the part. At first, the fact that he was asked back to audition for the recurring role slightly puzzled him until he discovered the reason he had not previously been cast in those roles—Carter had been unable to envision Pileggi as any of those characters because the actor had been shaving his head. When Pileggi auditioned for Walter Skinner, he had been in a grumpy mood and had allowed his small amount of hair to grow. His attitude fit well with Skinner’s character, causing Carter to assume that the actor was only pretending to be grumpy. Pileggi later realized he had been lucky that he had not been cast in one of the earlier roles, as he believed he would have appeared in only a single episode and would have missed the opportunity to play the recurring role.
Before the seventh season aired, Duchovny filed a lawsuit against 20th Century Fox, claiming that Fox had undersold the rights to its affiliates, thereby costing him vast sums of money. Eventually, the lawsuit was settled, and Duchovny was awarded a settlement of about $20 million, but the lawsuit put a strain on Duchovny’s professional relationships. Neither Carter nor Duchovny was contracted to work on the series beyond the seventh season; however, Fox entered into negotiations near the end of that season to bring the two on board for an eighth season. After settling his contract dispute, Duchovny quit full-time participation in the show after the seventh season. This contributed to uncertainties over the likelihood of an eighth season. Carter and most fans felt the show was at its natural endpoint with Duchovny’s departure. Still, it was decided that Mulder would be abducted at the end of the seventh season and return in 12 episodes the following year. The producers announced that a new character, John Doggett, would fill Mulder’s role.
More than 100 actors auditioned for the role of Doggett, but only about ten were seriously considered. Lou Diamond Phillips, Hart Bochner, and Bruce Campbell were among the ten. The producers chose Robert Patrick. Carter believed the series could continue for another ten years with new leads. The opening credits were redesigned in seasons eight and nine to emphasize the new actors (along with Pileggi, who was finally listed as a main character). Doggett’s presence did not give the series the ratings boost the network executives hoped for. The eighth-season episode “This is Not Happening” marked the first appearance of Monica Reyes, played by Gish, who became a main character in season nine. Her character was developed and introduced due to Anderson’s possible departure at the end of the eighth season. Although Anderson stayed until the end, Gish became a series regular.
Minor recurring characters
Glen Morgan and James Wong’s early influence on The X-Files mythology led to their introduction of popular secondary characters who continued for years in episodes written by others: Scully’s father, William (Don S. Davis); her mother, Margaret (Sheila Larken); and her sister, Melissa (Melinda McGraw). The conspiracy-inspired trio, The Lone Gunmen, were also secondary characters. The trio was introduced in the first-season episode “E.B.E.” to make Mulder appear more credible. They were initially meant to appear in only that episode, but due to their popularity, they returned in the second-season episode “Blood” and became recurring characters. Cigarette Smoking Man, portrayed by William B. Davis, was initially cast as an extra in the pilot episode. His character, however, grew into the main antagonist.
During the early stages of production, Carter founded Ten Thirteen Productions and began to plan for filming the pilot in Los Angeles. However, unable to find suitable locations for many scenes, he decided to “go where the good forests are” and moved production to Vancouver. The production crew soon realized that since so much of the first season would require filming on location rather than sound stages, a second location manager would be needed. The show remained in Vancouver for the first five seasons; production then shifted to Los Angeles beginning with the sixth season. Duchovny was unhappy over his geographical separation from his wife, Téa Leoni, although his discontent was popularly attributed to frustration with Vancouver’s persistent rain. Anderson also wanted to return to the United States, and Carter relented following the fifth season. The season ended in May 1998 with “The End,” the final episode shot in Vancouver and the final episode with the involvement of many original crew members, including director and producer R.W. Goodwin and his wife Sheila Larken, who played Margaret Scully and would later return briefly.
With the move to Los Angeles, many behind-the-scenes changes occurred, as much of the original The X-Files crew was gone. New production designer Corey Kaplan, editor Lynne Willingham, writer David Amann and director and producer Michael Watkins joined and stayed for several years. Bill Roe became the show’s new director of photography, and episodes generally had a drier, brighter look due to California’s sunshine and climate compared to Vancouver’s rain, fog, and temperate forests. Early in the sixth season, the producers took advantage of the new location, setting the show in new parts of the country. For example, Vince Gilligan’s “Drive,” about a man subject to an unexplained illness, was a frantic action episode, unusual for The X-Files because it was set on Nevada’s stark desert roads. The “Dreamland” two-part episode was also set in Nevada, this time in Area 51. The episode was filmed mainly at “Club Ed,” a movie ranch located in Lancaster, California.
Although the sixth through ninth seasons were filmed in Los Angeles, the series’ second movie, The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008), was filmed in Vancouver. According to Spotnitz, the film script was written for the city and surrounding areas. The 2016 revival was also shot there.
The music was composed by Mark Snow, who got involved with The X-Files through his friendship with executive producer Goodwin. Initially, Carter had no candidates. A little over a dozen people were considered, but Goodwin continued to press for Snow, who auditioned around three times with no sign from the production staff as to whether they wanted him. One day, Snow’s Agent called him, talking about the “pilot episode” and hinting that he had got the job.
The theme, “The X-Files,” used more instrumental sections than most dramas. The theme song’s famous whistle effect was inspired by the track “How Soon Is Now?” from the U.S. edition of The Smiths’ 1985 album Meat Is Murder. After attempting to craft the theme with different sound effects, Snow used a Proteus 2 rackmount sound module with a preset sound called “Whistling Joe.” After hearing this sound, Carter was “taken aback” and noted it was “going to be good.” According to the “Behind the Truth” segment on the first season DVD, Snow accidentally created the echo effect on the track. He felt that after several revisions, something still was not right. In frustration, Carter walked out of the room, and Snow put his hand and forearm on his keyboard. By doing so, he accidentally activated an echo effect setting. The resulting riff pleased Carter; Snow said, “this sound was in the keyboard. And that was it.” The second episode, “Deep Throat,” marked Snow’s debut as a solo composer for an entire episode. The production crew was determined to limit the music in the early episodes. Likewise, the theme song itself first appeared in “Deep Throat.”
Snow’s soundtrack for the first film, The X-Files: Original Motion Picture Score, was released in 1998. Snow was tasked with composing the score for both The X-Files films. The movie marked the first appearance of authentic orchestral instruments; previous music had been crafted by Snow using digitally sampled instrument sounds. For the second film, Snow recorded with the Hollywood Studio Symphony in May 2008 at the Newman Scoring Stage at 20th Century Fox in Century City. UNKLE recorded a new version of the theme music for the end credits. Some unusual sounds were created by various silly putty and dimes tucked into piano strings. Snow commented that the fast percussion featured in some tracks was inspired by “Prospectors Quartet” from the There Will Be Blood soundtrack. The soundtrack score, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, was released in 2008.
The opening sequence was made in 1993 for the first season and remained unchanged until Duchovny left the show. Carter sought to make the title an “impactful opening” with “supernatural images.” These scenes notably include a split-screen image of a seed germinating and a “terror-filled, warped face.” The latter was created when Carter found a video operator who could make the effect. The sequence was viral and won the show its first Emmy Award for Outstanding Graphic Design and Title Sequences. Producer Paul Rabwin was particularly pleased with the ordering and felt it had “never [been] seen on television before.” In 2017, James Charisma of Paste ranked the show’s opening sequence #8 on a list of The 75 Best T.V. Title Sequences of All Time.
The premiere episode of season eight, “Within,” revealed the first significant change to the opening credits. Along with Patrick, the sequence used new images and updated photos for Duchovny and Anderson, although Duchovny only appears in the opening credits when he appears in an episode. Carter and the production staff saw Duchovny’s departure as a chance to change things. The replacement shows various pictures of Scully’s pregnancy. According to executive producer Frank Spotnitz, the sequence also features an “abstract” way of showing Mulder’s absence in the eighth season: he falls into an eye. Season nine featured an entirely new sequence. Since Anderson wanted to move on, the series featured Reyes and Skinner. Duchovny’s return to the show for the ninth-season finale, “The Truth,” marked the most significant number of cast members to be featured in the opening credits, with five. The revival seasons use the series’ original opening credits sequence.
The sequence ends with the tagline “The Truth Is Out There,” which is used for most episodes. The tagline changes in specific episodes to slogans that are relevant to that episode.
The following episodes received alternate taglines
- “Trust No One” – “The Erlenmeyer Flask”
- “Deny Everything” – “Ascension”
- “‘éí ‘aaníígÓÓ ‘áhoot’é'” (“The truth is far from here” in Navajo) – “Anasazi”
- “Apology is Policy” – “731”
- “Everything Dies” – “Herrenvolk”
- “Deceive Inveigle Obfuscate” – “Teliko”
- “E pur si move” (“And still it moves” in Italian, a quote attributed to Galileo) – “Terma”
- “Believe the Lie” – “Gethsemane”
- “All Lies Lead to the Truth” – “Redux”
- “Resist or Serve” – “The Red and the Black”
- “The End” – “The End”
- “Die Wahrheit ist irgendwo da draußen” (“The truth is out there somewhere” in German) – “Triangle”
- “In the Big Inning” – “The Unnatural”
- “Amor Fati” (“Love of fate” in Latin) – “The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati”
- “Believe to Understand” – “Closure”
- “Nothing Important Happened Today” – “Nothing Important Happened Today II”
- “erehT tuO si hturT ehT” (“The Truth is Out There”, backwards) – “4-D”
- “They’re Watching” – “Trust No 1”
- “Dio ti ama” (“God loves you” in Italian) – “Improbable”
- “This Is the End” – “My Struggle II”
- “I Want to Believe/I Want to Lie” – “My Struggle III”
- “Accuse Your Enemies of That Which You are Guilty” – “This”
- “You See What I Want You to See” – “Ghouli”
- “A War is Never Over” – “Kitten”
- “VGhlIFRydXRoIGlzIE91dCBUaGVyZQ=” (“The Truth is Out There” in base64) – “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” (“Followers” in base64)
- “I Want to be Beautiful” – “Nothing Lasts Forever”
- “Salvator Mundi” (“Savior of the World” in Latin) – “My Struggle IV”
Broadcast and release
The pilot premiered on September 10, 1993, and reached 12 million viewers. As the season progressed, ratings began to increase, and the finale garnered 14 million viewers. In the first season, it ranked 105th out of 128 shows during the 1993–94 television season. The series’ second season increased in ratings—a trend that would continue for the next three seasons—and finished 63rd out of 141 shows. These ratings were not spectacular, but the series had attracted enough fans to receive the label “cult hit,”, particularly by Fox standards. Most importantly, it made significant gains among the 18-to-49 age demographic sought by advertisers.
During its third year, the series ranked 55th. They were viewed by an average of 15.40 million viewers, an increase of almost seven percent over the second season, making it Fox’s top-rated program in the 18–49-year-old demographic. Although the first three episodes of the fourth season aired on Friday night, the fourth episode, “Unruhe,” aired on Sunday night. The show remained on Sunday until its end. The season hit a high with its twelfth episode, “Leonard Betts,” which was chosen as the lead-out program following Super Bowl XXXI. The episode was viewed by 29.1 million viewers, the highest-rated series episode. The fifth season debuted with “Redux I” on November 2, 1997, and was viewed by 27.34 million people, making it the highest-rated non-special broadcast episode of the series. The season ranked as the eleventh-most watched series during the 1997–98 year, with an average of 19.8 million viewers. It was the series’ highest-rated season and Fox’s highest-rated program during the 1997–98 season.
The sixth season premiered with “The Beginning,” watched by 20.24 million viewers. The show ended season six with lower numbers than the previous season, beginning a decline that would continue for the show’s final three years. The X-Files was, nevertheless, Fox’s highest-rated show that year. The seventh season, originally intended as the show’s last, ranked as the 29th most-watched show for the 1999–2000 year, with 14.20 million viewers. This made it, at the time, the lowest-rated year of the show since the third season. The first episode of season eight, “Within,” was viewed by 15.87 million viewers. The episode marked an 11% decrease from the seventh season opener, “The Sixth Extinction.” The first part of the ninth season opener, “Nothing Important Happened Today,” only attracted 10.6 million viewers, the series lowest-rated season premiere.
The original series finale, “The Truth,” attracted 13.25 million viewers, the series lowest-rated season finale. The ninth season was the 63rd most-watched show for the 2001–02 season, tying its season two rank. The finale aired on May 19, 2002, and the Fox network confirmed that The X-Files was over. When talking about the beginning of the ninth season, Carter said, “We lost our audience on the first episode. The audience had disappeared, and I didn’t know how to find them. I didn’t want to work to get them back because I believed what we were doing deserved to have them back.” While news outlets cited declining ratings because of lackluster stories and poor writing, The X-Files production crew blamed September 11 terrorist attacks as the main factor. At the end of 2002, The X-Files had become the longest-running consecutive science fiction series on U.S. broadcast television. Stargate SG-1 later surpassed this record in 2007 and Smallville in 2011.
The debut episode of the 2016 revival, “My Struggle,” first aired on January 24, 2016, and was watched by 16.19 million viewers. In terms of viewers, this made it the highest-rated episode of The X-Files to air since the eighth-season episode “This Is Not Happening” in 2001, which 16.9 million viewers watched. When DVR and streaming are considered, “My Struggle” was seen by 21.4 million viewers, scoring a 7.1 Nielsen rating, and the season ended with “My Struggle II,” viewed by 7.60 million viewers. An average of 13.6 million viewers viewed the season; it ranked as the seventh most-watched television series of the 2015–16 year, making it the highest-ranked season of The X-Files ever to air. A few years later, the premiere episode of the eleventh season, “My Struggle III,” was watched by 5.15 million viewers. This decreased from the previous season’s debut; it was also the lowest-rated premiere for any show season. The season concluded with “My Struggle IV,” which was seen by 3.43 million viewers, which was also a decrease from the previous season. “My Struggle IV” became the series’s de facto finale and was the show’s lowest-rated finale. In total, the season was viewed by an average of 5.34 million viewers, and it ranked as the 91st most-watched television series of the 2018–19 year.
After several successful seasons, Carter wanted to tell the series’ story on a broader scale, which ultimately turned into a feature film. He later explained that the main problem was to create an account that would not require the viewer to be familiar with the broadcast series. The movie was filmed during the hiatus between the show’s fourth and fifth seasons, and re-shoots were conducted during the filming of the show’s fifth season. Due to the demands on the actors’ schedules, some episodes of the fifth season focused on just one of the two leads. On June 19, 1998, the eponymous The X-Files, also known as The X-Files: Fight the Future, was released. The crew intended the movie to be a continuation of the season five finale, “The End,” but it was also meant to stand on its own. The season six premiere, “The Beginning,” began where the film ended.
The film was written by Carter and Spotnitz and directed by series regular Rob Bowman. In addition to Mulder, Scully, Skinner, and Cigarette Smoking Man, it featured guest appearances by Martin Landau, Armin Mueller-Stahl, and Blythe Danner, who appeared only in the film. It also featured the last appearance of John Neville as the Well-Manicured Man. Jeffrey Spender, Diana Fowley, Alex Krycek, and Gibson Praise—characters introduced in the fifth-season finale and were integral to the television series—do not appear in the film. Although the film had a solid domestic opening and mainly received positive reviews from critics, attendance dropped sharply after the first weekend. Although it failed to make a profit during its theatrical release—due in part to its sizeable promotional budget—The X-Files film was more successful internationally. Eventually, the worldwide theatrical box office total reached $189 million. The film’s production cost and ad budgets were each close to $66 million. Unlike in the series, Anderson and Duchovny received equal pay for the film.
In November 2001, Carter decided to pursue a second film adaptation. Production was slated to begin after the ninth season, with a projected release in December 2003. In April 2002, Carter reiterated his desire and the studio’s desire to do a sequel film. He planned to write the script over the summer and begin production in the spring of 2003 for a 2004 release. Carter described the movie as independent of the series, saying, “We’re looking at the movies as standalones. They’re not necessarily going to have to deal with the mythology.” Bowman, who had directed various episodes of The X-Files in the past and the 1998 film, expressed an interest in the sequel, but Carter took the job. Spotnitz co-authored the script with Carter. The X-Files: I Want to Believe became the second film based on the series, after 1998’s The X-Files: Fight the Future. Filming began in December 2007 in Vancouver and finished on March 11, 2008.
The film was released in the United States on July 25, 2008. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Carter said that if I Want to Believe proved successful, he will propose a third movie that would return to the television series’ mythology and focus on the alien invasion foretold within the series, due to occur in December 2012. The film grossed $4 million on its opening day in the United States. It opened fourth on the U.S. weekend box office chart, with a gross of $10.2 million. By the end of its theatrical run, it had grossed $20,982,478 domestically and an additional $47,373,805 internationally, for a total worldwide gross of $68,369,434. Among 2008 domestic releases, it finished in 114th place. The film’s stars both claimed that the timing of the movie’s release, a week after the viral Batman film The Dark Knight, negatively affected its success. The film received mixed to negative reviews. Metacritic, which assigns a rating out of 100 reviews from mainstream film critics, reported “mixed or average” reviews, with an average score of 47 based on 33 reviews. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 32% of 160 listed film critics gave the film a positive review, with an average rating of 4.9 out of 10. The website wrote of the critics’ consensus, stating, “The chemistry between leads David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson do live [sic] up to The X-Files’ televised legacy, but the roving plot and droning routines make it hard to identify just what we’re meant to believe in.”
In several interviews around the release, Carter said that if the X-Files: I Want to Believe film proved successful at the box office, a third installment would be made going back to the T.V. series’ mythology, focusing specifically on the alien invasion and colonization of Earth foretold in the ninth-season finale, due to occur on December 22, 2012. In an October 2009 interview, David Duchovny said he wanted to do a 2012 X-Files movie but did not know if he would get the chance. Anderson stated in August 2012 that a third X-Files film is “looking pretty good.” As of July 2013, Fox had not approved the movie, although Carter, Spotnitz, Duchovny, and Anderson expressed interest. At the New York Comic Con held October 10–13, 2013, Duchovny and Anderson reaffirmed that they and Carter were interested in making a third film, with Anderson saying, “If it takes fan encouragement to get Fox interested in that, then I guess that’s what it would be.”
On January 17, 2015, Fox confirmed that they were looking at possibly bringing The X-Files back, not as a movie, but as a limited-run television season. Fox chairman Dana Walden told reporters that “conversations so far have only been logistical and are in very early stages” and that the series would only go forward if Carter, Anderson, and Duchovny were all on board and that it was a matter of ensuring all of their timetables are open. On March 24, 2015, it was confirmed that the series would return with creator Chris Carter and lead actors David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. It premiered on January 24, 2016. A year later, on April 20, 2017, Fox officially announced that The X-Files would return for an eleventh season of ten episodes, which premiered on January 3, 2018.
In January 2018, Gillian Anderson confirmed that season 11 would be her final season of The X-Files. The following month, Carter stated in an interview that he could see the show continuing without Anderson. In May 2018, Fox’s co-CEO Gary Newman commented, “there are no plans to do another season at the moment.”
In October 2020, Chris Carter said: “I always thought there would be even more X-Files.” He admitted that continuing the series with Duchovny and Anderson is unlikely, but he plans to continue the franchise with an upcoming animated spinoff. “Since Gillian decided to move on with her career, we certainly couldn’t do Mulder and Scully again. But that’s not to say there isn’t another way to do The X-Files. Disney now owns the rights. And so right now, I think the future is unwritten.”
On September 24, 1996, the first “wave” set of The X-Files VHS tapes was released. Wave sets were released covering the first through fourth seasons. Each “wave” was three VHS tapes, each containing two episodes, for six episodes per wave and two waves per season. For example, the home video release of wave one drew from the first half of the first season: “Pilot”/”Deep Throat,” “Conduit”/”Ice” and “Fallen Angel”/”Eve.” Each wave was also available in a boxed set. Unlike later DVD season releases, the tapes did not include every episode from the seasons. Ultimately twelve episodes—approximately half the total number aired—were selected by Carter to represent each season, including nearly all “mythology arc” episodes and selected standalone episodes. Carter briefly introduced each episode with an explanation of why the episode was chosen and anecdotes from the set. These clips were later included on the full-season DVDs. Wave eight, covering the last part of the fourth season, was the last to be released. No Carter interviews appeared on DVDs for later seasons. Many of the waves had collectible cards for each episode.
All nine seasons were released on DVD along with the two films. The entire series was re-released on DVD in early 2006 in a “slimmer” package. The first five slim case versions did not feature some bonus materials in the original fold-out versions. However, seasons six, seven, eight, and nine all contained the bonus materials found in the original versions. Episodic DVDs have also been released in Region 2, such as “Deadalive,” “Existence,” “Nothing Important Happened Today,” “Providence,” and “The Truth.” Various other episodes were released on DVD and VHS. In 2005, four DVD sets were released containing the main story arc episodes of The X-Files. The four are Volume 1 – Abduction, Volume 2 – Black Oil, Volume 3 – Colonization, and Volume 4 – Super Soldiers. A boxed set containing all nine seasons and the first film was made available in 2007, which has all of the unique features from the initial releases. The pack includes a disc of new bonus features and various collectibles, including a poster for the first film, a comic book, a set of collector cards, and a guide to all 202 episodes across all nine seasons and the first film. Because the set was released in 2007, the second film, which was released in 2008, is not included.
The Release of The X-Files’ seasons on Blu-ray, restored in high-definition, was rumored to begin in late 2013. The German TV channel ProSieben Maxx began airing first-season episodes reformatted in widescreen and high-definition on January 20, 2014. On April 23, 2015, Netflix started streaming episodes of The X-Files in high definition, marking the first time the series was made available in high-resolution format in North America. In October 2015, it was confirmed that the complete series would be reissued on Blu-ray, and the whole set was released on December 8, 2015. The set was criticized for using the wrong fonts for the title sequence, and season 8 was affected by color balance issues making the picture appear darker in most episodes (a problem known as “black crush”). These issues led to Fox offering corrected discs and issuing new sets with the correct color balance.
The Lone Gunmen
The Lone Gunmen is an American science fiction television series created by Carter and broadcast on Fox and was crafted as a more humorous spinoff of The X-Files. The series starred the eponymous Lone Gunmen and was first broadcast in March 2001, during The X-Files’s month-long hiatus. Although the debut episode garnered 13.23 million viewers, its ratings steadily dropped. The program was canceled after thirteen episodes. The last episode was broadcast in June 2001 and ended on a cliffhanger which was partially resolved in a ninth-season episode of The X-Files titled “Jump the Shark,” included in the DVD release of the series.
The X-Files: Albuquerque
In August 2020, Fox announced that an animated comedy spinoff was developing.
The X-Files was converted into a comic book series published by Topps Comics during the show’s third and fourth seasons. The initial comic books were written solely by Stefan Petrucha. According to Petrucha, there were three stories: “those that dealt with the characters, those that dealt with the conspiracy, and the monster-of-the-week sort of stuff.” Petrucha cited the latter as the easiest to write. Petrucha saw Scully as a “scientist […] with real-world faith” and that the difference between [Mulder and Scully] is not that Mulder believes and Scully doesn’t; it’s more a difference in procedure.” In this manner, Mulder’s viewpoint was often written to be just as valid as Scully’s, and Scully’s science was often portrayed as just as convincing as Mulder’s more outlandish ideas. Petrucha was eventually fired, and various other authors took up the job. Topps published 41 regular issues of The X-Files from 1995–98.
WildStorm published a 30 Days of Night/The X-Files cross-over graphic novel in 2010. It follows Mulder and Scully to Alaska as they investigate a series of murders that may be linked to vampires.
In 2013, it was announced that The X-Files would return to comic book form with “Season 10″, now published by I.D.W. The series, which follows Mulder and Scully after the events of The X-Files: I Want to Believe, was released in June 2013. Joe Harris wrote the series, and Michael Walsh and Jordie Bellaire provided the artwork. It was later announced that Carter would be the executive producer for the series and ” provide feedback to the creative team regarding scripts and outlines to keep the new stories in line with existing and ongoing canon.” The series restarted the series’ mythology, and the story’s first arc focused on “seek[ing] to bring the mythology of the Alien Conspiracy back up to date in a more paranoid, post-terror, post-WikiLeaks society.” In addition, sequels to popular Monster-of-the-Week episodes were made. The X-Files Season 10 concluded on July 1, 2015, after 25 issues.
In August 2015, The X-Files Season 11 comic book began, also published by I.D.W. The 8-issue series served as a continuation of the T.V. show. Chris Carter was the Executive producer of the comic book series, while the issues were written by Joe Harris and illustrated by Matthew Dow Smith and Jordie Bellaire.
Influence and critical reception
The X-Files received positive reviews from critics, with many calling it one of the best series aired on American television in the 1990s. Ian Burrell from the British newspaper The Independent called the show “one of the greatest cult shows in modern television.” Richard Corliss from Time magazine called the show the “cultural touchstone of” the 1990s. Hal Boedeker from the Orlando Sentinel said in 1996 that the series had grown from a cult favorite to a television “classic.” The Evening Herald said the show had an “overwhelming influence” on television, in front of such shows as The Simpsons. In 2012, Entertainment Weekly listed the show at #4 in the “25 Best Cult TV Shows from the Past 25 Years”, describing it as “a tribute to oddballs, sci-fi fans, conspiracy theorists and Area 51 pilgrims everywhere. Ratings improved yearly for the first five seasons, while Mulder and Scully’s believer-versus-skeptic dynamic created a T.V. template still in heavy use today.”
In 2004 and 2007, The X-Files ranked #2 on T.V. Guide’s “Top Cult Shows Ever.” In 2002, the show ranked as the 37th best television show. In 1997, the episodes “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” and “Small Potatoes” respectively ranked #10 and #72 on “T.V. Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time”. In 2013, T.V. Guide included it in its list of the “60 Greatest Dramas of All Time” and ranked it as the #4 science fiction show and the #25 best series of all time. In 2007, Time included it on the “100 Best TV Shows of All Time” list. In 2008, Entertainment Weekly named it the fourth-best piece of science fiction media, the fourth-best T.V. show in the last 25 years, and 2009, called it the fourth-best piece of science fiction in their list of the “20 Greatest Sci-fi TV Shows” in history. Empire magazine ranked The X-Files ninth best T.V. show in history, further claiming that the best episode was the third season entry “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.” In 2015, on The Hollywood Reporter’s entertainment-industry ranked T.V. list “Hollywood’s 100 Favorite TV Shows”, The X-Files appeared at #3. According to The Guardian, MediaDNA research discovered that The X-Files was on top of the list of the most innovative T.V. brands. In 2009, it was announced that the show’s catchphrase “The Truth Is Out There” was among Britain’s top 60 best-known slogans and quotes.
The X-Files has been criticized for being unscientific and privileging paranormal and supernatural ideas (e.g., the hypotheses made by Mulder). For instance, in 1998, Richard Dawkins wrote, “The X-Files systematically purveys an anti-rational view of the world which, by virtue of its recurrent persistence, is insidious.”
First seven seasons
The pilot episode was generally well-received by fans and critics. Variety criticized the episode for “using reworked concepts” but praised the production and noted its potential. Of the acting, Variety said, “Duchovny’s delineation of a serious scientist with a sense of humor should win him partisans, and Anderson’s wavering doubter connects well. They’re a solid team…” Variety praised the writing and direction: “Mandel’s cool direction of Carter’s ingenious script and the artful presentation itself give T.V. sci-fi a boost.” The magazine concluded, “Carter’s dialogue is fresh without being self-conscious, and the characters are involved. The series starts with drive and imagination, both innovative in recent T.V.” Entertainment Weekly said that Scully “was set up as a scoffing skeptic” in the pilot but progressed toward belief throughout the season. After the airing of four episodes, the magazine called The X-Files “the most paranoid, subversive show on T.V.,” noting the “marvelous tension between Anderson—who is dubious about these events—and Duchovny, who has the haunted, imploring look of a true believer.” Virgin Media said the most memorable “Monster-of-the-Week” was Eugene Tooms from “Squeeze” and “Tooms.”
The following four seasons received similar praise. During the show’s second season, Entertainment Weekly named The X-Files the “Program of the Year” for 1994, stating “no other show on television gives off the vibe that The X-Files does.” The DVD Journal gave the second season four out of four stars, calling it a “memorable season.” The review highlighted “The Host,” “Duane Barry,” and “Ascension,” the cliffhanger finale “Anasazi,” the “unforgettable” “Humbug,” and meeting Mulder and Scully’s families in “Colony” and “One Breath.” I.G.N. gave the season a rating of 9 out of 10, with the reviewer noting it was an improvement upon the first as it had “started to explore a little” and the “evolution of the characters makes the product shine even though the plotlines have begun to seem familiar.” Emily VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club argued that the third season of The X-Files was the show’s “best season and maybe one of the greatest T.V. seasons of all time,” noting it was consistent and “[swung from strength to strength” between mythology and standalone episodes. Michael Sauter of Entertainment Weekly gave the fifth season an “A–,” writing that it “proves the show was—even then—still at its creative peak (if only for another year or so) and full of surprises.” He praised the new additions to the series’ mythology and concluded that “many standalone episodes now look like classics.” Francis Dass, writing for the New Straits Times, noted that the season was “very interesting” and possessed “some […] truly inspiring and hilarious” episodes.
After the 1998 film, the show began to receive increasingly critical reviews. Some longtime fans became alienated during the show’s sixth season due to the different tone most standalone episodes took after the move to Los Angeles. Rather than adhering to the “Monsters-of-the-Week” style, they were often romantic or humorous or both, such as “Arcadia” or “Terms of Endearment.” Some fans felt there was no coherent plan to the main storyline and that Carter was “making it all up as he goes along.” As for the seventh season, The A.V. Club noted that while most of the first eight seasons of The X-Files were “good-to-great,” the seventh season of the show was “flagging” and possessed “significant problems.” Despite this, seasons six and seven included several episodes that critics lauded, including the sixth season entries “Triangle” and “The Unnatural,” as well as the seventh season installment “X-Cops.”
Eighth and ninth seasons
The show’s eighth season received mixed positive reviews from critics. The A.V. Club noted that the eighth season was “revitalized by the new ‘search for Mulder’ story arc.” Amy H. Sturgis commended the eighth season, praising Anderson’s performance as Scully as “excellence” and positively wrote that Doggett was “non-Mulderish.” Collin Polonowonski from DVD Times said that the season included “more hits than misses overall” but offered a negative word about the mythology episodes, claiming that they were the “weakest” episodes in the season. Jesse Hassenger from PopMatters, however, criticized the new season, claiming that Patrick was miscast and calling Duchovny’s appearances as Mulder shallow.
The ninth season received mixed negative reviews from critics and garnered an adverse reaction from many longtime fans and viewers. Sabadino Parker from PopMatters called the show “a pale reflection of the show it once was.” Elizabeth Weinbloom from The New York Times concluded, “shoddy writing notwithstanding. It was this halfhearted culmination of what was once a beautifully complicated friendship” between Mulder and Scully that ended remaining interest in what was a “waning phenomenon.” Another The New York Times review stated, “The most imaginative show on television has finally reached the limits of its imagination.” The A.V. Club listed the ninth season and the 2008 film The X-Files: I Want to Believe as the “bad apple” of The X-Files franchise, describing the ninth season as a “clumsy mish-mash of stuff that had once worked and new serialized storylines about so-called ‘super soldiers.'” Brian Linder from I.G.N., on the other hand, was more favorable toward the ninth season, saying that the series could still have aired if the writers created a new storyline for Patrick and Gish’s characters.
Tenth and eleventh seasons
The 2016 revival of the show was met with mixed reviews; the first and last episodes were met with lukewarm to negative reviews from critics, whereas episodes two through five were generally well-received. The third episode in particular, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” was praised by critics, with Alex McCown of The A.V. Club calling it an “instant classic.” Overall, the review aggregator Metacritic gave the season a score of 60 out of 100 based on 35 reviews, indicating “mixed or average reviews.” Likewise, Rotten Tomatoes gave the revival a 64% approval rating with an average score of 6.58 out of 10 based on 53 reviews. The site’s consensus reads, “Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny’s chemistry remains intact, but overall, The X-Files revival lacks the creative spark necessary to sustain the initial rush of nostalgia.”
The eleventh season received positive reviews from critics. Metacritic scored the season 67 out of 100 based on 18 reviews, indicating “generally favorable reviews.” Rotten Tomatoes gave the season a “Certified Fresh” rating of 78%, with an average score of 6.89 out of 10 based on 39 reviews. The site’s consensus reads, “Though it may not make many new believers, The X-File’s return to business as usual is a refreshing upgrade from the show’s underwhelming previous outing.” Episodes “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat,” “Ghouli,” “Rm9sbG93ZXJz,” and “Nothing Lasts Forever” were praised, receiving a 100% approval rating on the website.
The X-Files received prestigious awards over its nine-year run, totaling 62 Emmy nominations and 16 awards. Capping its successful first season, The X-Files crew members James Castle, Bruce Bryant, and Carol Johnsen won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Graphic Design and Title Sequences in 1994. In 1995, the show was nominated for seven Emmy Awards with one win. The show won five Emmys out of eight nominations the following year, including Darin Morgan for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series. In 1997, The X-Files won three awards out of twelve, including Gillian Anderson for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. In 1998, the show won one of fifteen. In 1999, it won one out of eight in the category of Outstanding Makeup for a Series. Season seven won three Emmys from six nominations. The following season would not be as successful, catching only two nominations and winning again in the Makeup category for “Deadalive.” The ninth season received one nomination for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (Dramatic Underscore).
The show was nominated for 12 Golden Globe Awards overall, winning five. The first nomination came in 1994 when the show won Best Series – Drama. The following year, Anderson and Duchovny were nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Leading Role, respectively. In 1996, the series won three awards; Anderson and Duchovny for Best Actress and Actor and Best Series – Drama. In 1997 and 1998, the show received the same three nominations. In 1998, the series won no awards and received no nominations. In 1997, however, the series won Best Series – Drama”.
The show was nominated for 14 S.A.G. Awards overall, winning twice. In 1996 and 1997, Anderson won for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series. In 1996, the show won a Peabody Award for being able “to convey both entertaining and thought-provoking ideas.” The show has also been nominated for: two American Cinema Editors awards, three Directors Guild of America Awards, nine Television Critics Association Awards, and two Writers Guild of American Awards. The X-Files was also nominated for nine Satellite Awards, winning two of them and two Young Artist Awards, winning one.
As The X-Files saw its viewership expand from a “small but devoted” group of fans to a worldwide mass cult audience, digital telecommunications were becoming mainstream. According to The New York Times, “this may have been the first show to find its audience growth tied to the growth of the Internet.” The X-Files incorporated new technologies into storylines beginning in the early seasons: Mulder and Scully communicated on cellular phones, and e-mail contact with secret informants provided plot points in episodes such as “Colony” and “Anasazi.” At the same time, The Lone Gunmen were portrayed as Internet enthusiasts as early as 1994. Many X-Files fans also had online access. Fans of the show became commonly known as “X-Philes,” a term coined from the Greek root “-phil-” meaning love or obsession. In addition to watching the show, X-Philes reviewed episodes on unofficial websites, formed communities with other fans through Usenet newsgroups and listservs, and wrote fan fiction.
The X-Files also “caught on with viewers who wouldn’t ordinarily consider themselves sci-fi fans.” While Carter argued that the show was plot-driven, many fans saw it as character-driven. Duchovny and Anderson were characterized as “Internet sex symbols.” As the show grew in popularity, subgroups of fans developed, such as “shippers,” hoping for a romantic or sexual partnership between Mulder and Scully or those who already perceived one between the lines. Other groups arose to pay tribute to the stars or their characters, while others joined the subculture of “slash” fiction.
In the summer of 1996, a journalist wrote, “There are forums online devoted to the ‘M/S’ (Mulder and Scully) relationship.” In addition to “MOTW,” Internet fans invented acronyms such as “U.S.T.,” meaning “unresolved sexual tension,” and “COTR,” standing for “conversation on the rock”—referencing a famous scene in the third-season episode “Quagmire”—to aid in their discussions of the agents’ relationship, which was itself identified as the “M.S.R..”
According to a study on the subject, the producers did not endorse some fans’ readings: “Not content to allow Shippers to perceive what they wish, Carter has consistently reassured NoRomos those against the idea of a Mulder/Scully romance] that theirs is the preferred reading. This allows him the plausible deniability to credit the show’s success to his original plan even though many watched in anticipation of a romance, thanks, in part, to his strategic polysemy. However, he can deny that these fans had reason to do so since he has repeatedly stated that a romance was not and would never be.” The Scully-obsessed writer in Carter’s 1999 episode “Milagro” was read by some as his alter ego, realizing that by this point, “she has fallen for Mulder despite his authorial intent.” The writers sometimes paid tribute to the more visible fans by naming minor characters after them. The best example is Leyla Harrison. Played by Jolie Jenkins and introduced in the eighth-season episode “Alone,” Harrison was created and named in memory of an Internet fan and prolific writer of fan fiction of the same name, who died of cancer on February 10, 2001.
The X-Files spawned an industry of spinoff products. In 2004, U.S.-based Topps Comics and, most recently, D.C. Comics imprint Wildstorm launched a new series of licensed tie-in comics. The Fox Broadcasting Company published the official The X-Files Magazine during the series run. The X-Files has inspired four video games. The X-Files Collectible Card Game was released in 1996, and an expansion set was released in 1997. In 1997, Fox Interactive released The X-Files: Unrestricted Access, a game-style database for Windows and Mac, which allowed users access to every case file. In 1998, The X-Files Game was released for the P.C. and Macintosh and a year later for the PlayStation.
This game is set within the timeline of the second or third season and follows Agent Craig Willmore’s search for the missing Mulder and Scully. Then, in 2004, The X-Files: Resist or Serve was released. The game is a survival-horror game released for the PlayStation 2 and is an original story set in the seventh season. It allows the player to control both Mulder and Scully. Both games feature acting and voice work from the series cast members. In February 2018, a mobile mystery investigation game, The X-Files: Deep State, was released on iOS, Android, and Facebook. The story of the game takes place between seasons 9 and 10 of the show and follows two F.B.I. agents, Casey Winter, and Garret Dale, as they investigate a sinister conspiracy. Sega produced a 6-player pinball game called The X-Files in 1997.
The X-Files directly inspired other T.V. series, including Strange World, The Burning Zone, Special Unit 2, Mysterious Ways, Lost, Dark Skies, The Visitor, Fringe, Warehouse 13, Supernatural, and Gravity Falls, with critical aspects carried over to more standard crime dramas, such as Eleventh Hour and Bones.
The influence can be seen on other levels: television series such as Lost developed their complex mythologies. In terms of characterization, the role of Dana Scully was seen as innovative, changing “how women [on television] were not just perceived but behaved” and perhaps influencing the portrayal of other “strong women” investigators. Russell T Davies said The X-Files had inspired his series Torchwood, describing it as “dark, wild and sexy… The X-Files meets This Life”. The tone and mood of The X-Files have influenced other shows. For example, Buffy the Vampire Slayer drew from the spirit and coloring of The X-Files and its rare blend of horror and humor; creator Joss Whedon described his show as “a cross between The X-Files and My So-Called Life.” It also inspired themes in video games Deus Ex and Perfect Dark.
The show’s popularity made it a significant aspect of popular culture. The show is parodied in The Simpsons season eight episode “The Springfield Files,” aired on January 12, 1997. In it, Mulder and Scully—voiced by Duchovny and Anderson—are sent to Springfield to investigate an alien sighting by Homer Simpson but end up finding no evidence other than Homer’s words and depart. Cigarette Smoking Man appears in the background when Homer is interviewed, and the show’s theme plays during one particular scene.
In The Simpsons history, Nathan Ditum from Total Film ranked Duchovny and Anderson’s performances as the fourth-best guest appearances. In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Trials and Tribble-actions,” Benjamin Sisko is interviewed by Federation Department of Temporal Investigations agents Dulmer and Lucsly, anagrams of Mulder and Scully, respectively. The pair were later expanded upon in Christopher L. Bennett’s book Watching the Clock. The X-Files has also been parodied or referenced in countless other shows, such as 3rd Rock from the Sun, Archer, NewsRadio, American Horror Story, The Big Bang Theory, Bones, Breaking Bad, Californication (which stars David Duchovny), Supernatural, Castle, Family Guy, Hey Arnold!, King of the Hill, South Park, and Two and a Half Men. Welsh music act Catatonia released the 1998 single “Mulder and Scully,” which became a hit in the United Kingdom. American singer and songwriter Bree Sharp wrote a song in 1999 called “David Duchovny” about the actor that heavily references the show and its characters. Although never a mainstream hit, the song became popular underground and gained a cult following. Finnish band Sonata Arctica released, in 1999, the song “Letter to Dana,” in which the title character, Dana O’Hara, is named after Scully. The series has also been referenced in songs such as “The Bad Touch” by the Bloodhound Gang, “A Change” by Sheryl Crow, “The year 2000” by Xzibit, and “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies.
Carter, Duchovny, and Anderson celebrated the 20th anniversary of the series at a July 18, 2013, panel at the San Diego Comic-Con hosted by T.V. Guide. During the discussion, Anderson discussed Scully’s influence on female fans, relating that several women have informed her that they entered into careers in physics because of the character. Anderson also indicated that she was not in favor of an X-Files miniseries, and Duchovny ruled out working with her on an unrelated project. Still, both expressed willingness to do a third feature film. Carter was more reserved at the idea, stating, “You need a reason to get excited about going on and doing it again.” The series attained a degree of historical importance, as well. On July 16, 2008, Carter and Spotnitz donated several props from the series and a new film to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Some items included the original pilot script and the “I Want to Believe” poster from Mulder’s office.
Some of the show’s writer-producers have acknowledged that the show likely played a role in bringing conspiracy theories to a mainstream audience and possibly in the erosion of trust in public institutions.